Sex Offenders have long been considered among the most despised criminals in Western culture. The mere mention of the phrase “sex offender” conjures up images of child predators. Prevention of these types of crimes has been a concern for many years. Punishment usually includes incarceration, mandatory treatment programs, medical intervention, and strict conditions of probation and parole.
In the last decade or so, state and federal governments have become much more aggressive about requiring the collection and disclosure of information about convicted sex offenders. Most of this has come from sexual assaults on children. Occasionally concerns have been raised about the privacy and rights of the sex offenders, but those concerns have been overwhelmed by the desire of parents and elected officials to protect their children.
In 2000, Congress enacted a law called the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act. This required sex offenders to inform officials at any institution where they sought to work or enroll as students of their sex offender status. This is in addition to the requirement to register with their states. The law also requires college officials to clearly publicize where and how students and staff members can find information about registered sex offenders on their campuses. Compliance with the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act may also be achieved by an institution creating and maintaining a campus-specific sex offender registry. Typically such registries contain the same information as state registries and may link to the publicly-accessible state-wide registry. The difference in these university-maintained registries is that they specifically identify the state-registered offenders who also have an affiliation with the school, and therefore contain a much smaller number of registrants. This form of registration further publicizes sex offenders by exposing a segment of personal life to an interested population (the campus community) which is also likely to be much smaller than the audience for state registries.
This leaves campus officials with a lot of latitude about whether to admit sex offenders who apply as students and how to treat those sex offenders who enroll. The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management advises colleges on such issues. Many of its clients are seeking advice about whether they should or shouldn’t admit convicted sex offenders. Private institutions in particular are often disinclined to admit students who have the potential to put their peers at risk. Schools are torn between wanting these students to have an education, but not wanting them to be part of the residential population. Many sex offenders participate in online degree programs for this very reason.
The situation may be very different on a community college campus. Most have an open door admissions policy and are often places where someone can get a fresh start. They have seen numerous cases where sex offenders have turned their lives around and become productive members of society. A policy that forced sex offenders to disclose their identity to all students – rather than just making it available to those who seek it out- would essentially make it impossible for most sex offenders to get a fresh start. They will be outcasts and possibly targets.
Some students and faculty members have advocated a more aggressive approach in dealing with sex offenders. This includes telling all students in a course that a convicted sex offender is among them. Some have suggested that the institution should be required to disclose the offenders’ identities to all students, not just make information about them available to those who seek it. The need for more and better disclosure is understood, but where do you draw the line?
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